Making Small Palms
by: Chas Young
After taking great interest in jungle dioramas recently, I’ve come up with a good method of making small palm plants. This method is also acceptable as ferns, which are a necessity to any jungle diorama. These plants usually occupy the forest floor where trees have fallen allowing sunlight to filter through the canopy. They often have very large, spread out leaves/fronds to allow maximum sunlight exposure.
Believe it or not, this method of making palms primarily uses Australian products! I’m sure that many Aussies here at Armorama get frustrated by having to order expensive stuff from the U.S. This method also makes good use of nature (make sure the glycerine is handy!) and is relatively cheap to make compared to buying the ‘big brand’ stuff. In my honest opinion, buying photo-etched palm or fern leaves is a waste of time and money. After all, you can easily make them for yourself. I was forced to invent this method due to my very small wallet!
The Trunk :
To make the trunk of the palm plant use pine needles from a Norfolk Island Pine tree, they are excellent. These huge 150+ foot trees grow along the coastline of Australia, New Zealand, Florida, Hawaii, South Africa and southern California. I am lucky enough to have one growing right outside my house (image #1). Simply snap small 2cm sections off a dead needle which has dropped to the ground. These are similar in structure to the bases of real palms. Stick it into a piece of polystyrene (or something similar) to make it easy to work with (image #2).
The Foliage :
Palm foliage can be made from several different materials. This time, I have used real ferns found in my garden (image #3). This step requires YOU to get outside and go hunting for some fern plants. They can be found in most parts of the world usually in humid places away from constant or direct sunlight. I have chosen fronds about 3cm long, making them about 1m long in 1/35 scale. Once harvested, make sure each frond is preserved with a 1:15 ratio of glycerine:water. After dunking all of the ferns (which are still on the stem) into the mix, leave the stem upright in the mix for 2-3 days (image #4). Capillary action will draw the mix into the stem which will further enhance its potential to be preserved.
After the preservation process, it’s time to pull the fronds off the fern stem and glue them into place (image #5). Glue them into a variety of positions on the trunk, because new healthy fronds grow from the top while dying fronds droop to the bottom. In image #6, you can see that I have added a dying frond to the base. The dying effect was achieved simply by leaving the frond for a few days before preserving it. So far, it has been 2 weeks (until the time of writing this article) since this frond has been picked and it has not died any further. It has been ‘frozen in time.’
Final Touches :
To add to the realism of the palm, there are many things you can do to them, including adding seeds, cones, new growth etc. or repainting them to suite your individual needs. Once my palms were finished, they had not suffered any discolouration even though it has been three weeks since picking the fronds. All I have done is given the base a dark brown wash. For realism I have added some cut up Jute twine to the top of the trunk to simulate the flowering process (images #7 and 8). Many palms in their flowering process begin with seeds and greenery sprouting from the top. After flowering, these parts die off, leaving a stringy mass which lasts a few months before new growth emerges. I think some species of Sago Palms do this. After all the steps are completed, give the whole palm a spray of Hairspray to seal everything in and prevent things from coming loose.
All up, these palms cost me about 4 cents each to make and about 2 hours in the shed. They can be adapted to suite your available products, and a bit of imagination can result in some fantastic looking plants for your scene. Now, you can either; take my advice and enjoy the overall satisfaction in making your own palms, or you can spend $20 on some mass produced plastic which takes a week to arrive from overseas. It’s your choice!